Like many people who keep journals and like to write, I’ve written poetry off and on for much of my life. And when I started painting, poetry came with it. Deep into the process of painting, words often arise, and I record them before they go to the same place that unremembered dreams go. By the time the painting is finished, I have a list of words and phrases that, with a little tweaking, are a satisfying witness both to the painting and to my life at that time.
Then several years ago, a dear friend told me that she really wanted a poetry group. As I was already facilitating monthly small groups, I began a Poetry Circle. Participants take turns presenting, helping us to fall in love with the poetry that they each love, and leading us in laying down our own lives alongside the poems in writing and then sharing.
One participant admitted that before coming, she really had never liked
poetry; she’d had bad experiences in English classes that demanded
interpretation of obscure symbolism. She only showed up because she
wanted to support her friends: the woman with the original idea and me, the
facilitator. But something good happened, and now my friend’s daughter is
publishing a book of that reluctant participant’s new original poetry.
After the last meeting of our Circle one year, another of the participants called me to ask what I thought about having an Open Mic. She had enjoyed the Circle so much and didn't want to abandon poetry for the summer. I agreed that it was a good idea, imagining that she would organize one meeting, perhaps at a room at the library, where those of us who'd participated in the Poetry Circle, plus a few friends and family, would read whatever poetry we'd written.
Well, my imagination was not big enough for what happened next. She arranged an Open Mic at the most popular restaurant/bar in our city, the one that offers live music — and people showed up! By the end of the night the owner offered us a monthly gig.
That was five years ago, and Owl Poetry has become something wonderful, a precious venue where she and I, and all who participate, create a welcoming space for new poets, old poets, and people who hadn’t previously thought they were poets. We share our lives’ stories in condensed speech. It feels a little like going on stage and taking all our clothes off, this poetry!
And so I now have ongoing excuses to write down the words that are too often dissipated in the day’s busyness. I write poetry to express myself, yes, but also to encourage others to express their own hopes and fears, their own stories.
And yet another friend often wondered whether the poetry she wrote was “good”. But what is good poetry, I asked. Poetry is like food: is broccoli good? Is chocolate cake good? Is steak good? Is a vegetarian feast good? At the right time and place, to the right palate, they’re all good. And not only good but nourishing and pleasurable and beautiful and just right!
So share your own words. Tell us your own stories. Express yourself, whether in words or color or music or. . . . the possibilities are endless. Doing so will make a richer and more interesting world for all of us.
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